The multitalented artist has released his new album Paul via Morton Records.
We all get discouraged. This can occur when one’s vision isn’t coming together the way they had hoped.
PJ Morton thought about quitting his solo music career at one point. Between 2005 and 2015, he released a slew of projects, including three solo albums. Despite being in a successful band (Maroon 5), Morton felt like his solo career wasn’t going anywhere. In 2016, he packed his bags and moved his family to his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. His intentions were to record his final album that we now know as Gumbo, which released in 2017. Well, things took a turn when the album received critical acclaim.
Morton scored two Grammy nominations for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018. Building off the hype, he decided to record a live version of the album. In March 2018, he released Gumbo Unplugged and earned three Grammy nominations, including a history-making Best R&B Album nod. He won Best Traditional R&B Performance for “How Deep Is Your Love.”
Morton’s success with Gumbo — his first project under his own label Morton Records — was a wake up call for him. Had he given up too soon, he wouldn’t be where he is now.
By recording Gumbo in the city that raised him, Morton was able to find the comfort to be himself. “When I went back home, I kind of re-fell in love with music and re-fell in love with the reason I wanted to do music,” he told Okayplayer in an interview. “And that is as responsible as anything else as to why Gumbo felt the way it felt.”
Gumbo walked so his new album Paul, which is out now, could run. The ten-track project takes a deep dive journey through Morton’s mind as he ponders about his ambitions, his love life and the Black experience.
Morton wastes no time to talk about love on the opening track, “Ready.” He is ready to take a chance on love without applying too much pressure on his partner. “Girl, if you’re ready / We ain’t gotta waste no time, we could just go steady,” he sings.
He is aware of all the complications that come with love. “Built For Love,” his soulful duet with Jazmine Sullivan, explores a struggling relationship. Morton doesn’t want to give up so easily. He believes trials and tribulations can help strengthen a relationship. “This is just a bump in the road / We’ll get over this,” he sings.
Sullivan agrees as she highlights financial hardships that arise. “Baby, it ain’t easy lovin’ you / When the lights shut off and the rent is due / But somehow we always make it through,” she sings. The New Orleans native’s and Philly native’s vocals marry well together over the ‘70s-style production. Even though Morton released this song back in 2011, the composition of the record is far from dated.
Morton wears his heart on his sleeve on “Don’t Break My Heart” featuring rapper Rapsody. As someone who’s been through enough, he begs his love interest not to hurt him if they decide to make things official. “We can just take more time, yeah / Because I would rather / You be totally sure Instead of rushing in and changing your mind,” Morton sings.
He’s very serious about avoiding heartbreak at all costs. On the album’s lead single “Say So” featuring JoJo, the two want to make sure they’re on the same page when it comes to taking a relationship to the next level. “So if you love me, just say so, can you just say so? / ‘Cause I can’t play these games with you no more,” they harmonize over a beautiful piano-driven instrumental.
As someone who has doubted themselves in the past, Morton shares some uplifting words on “Practicing.” On the motivational track, featuring rapper Tobe Nwigwe, the two disregard naysayers (including family) who may not fully understand nor support their dreams. “They always told me my ideas would never work / Go to college, get your degree so you could go to work,” Morton sings. Nwigwe responds with, “My mama prolly thought I was gonna hit the league / But I didn’t / She told me, ‘Tobe, you should go get a real J-O-B’ / But I didn’t.”
Children have some of the biggest and uninhibited dreams. Morton revisits his childhood on the introspective “Kid Again” to remind himself about what he once dreamt of. “Sometimes I just wish I didn’t know what I know / I used to believe in the impossible,” he sings.
“Don’t Let Go” doesn’t sound like anything else on the album. Morton doesn’t provide an instrumental for this track. Instead, the focus is on the lyrics. “I know it’s been so hard / And you don’t know what it all means / But don’t you ever let go,” he sings with a vocoder-effect on his voice.
Although the album is named after Morton, he doesn’t make the project all about himself. He pays homage to the late Nipsey Hussle on “Buy Back the Block.” Hussle was known for his philanthropic efforts in his community. Morton uses the funk-tinged tune as a call to action for Black people circulate our Black dollars in our own communities. “It belongs to us all, why not? / Buy back the block / It’ll make us stronger, can’t wait no longer,” he sings. According to a study, Black people in America spend $1.2 trillion on purchases annually.
The closing track “MAGA?” comes in the height of all the injustice and the dark cloud that hovers over America. He takes President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” which seems to be a white supremist’s favorite phrase these days, and asks the question a lot of people have been asking: when? He sings on the chorus, “Make America great again / I think they mean it was great for them / ‘Cause it wasn’t so great for everyone back then.”
CNN commentator Angela Rye chimes in towards the end with a bold spoken word verse. “You say America was at its greatest point in the 1950s? / When we couldn’t drink out YOUR fountain, sit at YOUR lunch counter, vote in YOUR elections? / America is great, for who,” she asks.
Even with all the negativity that’s going on in this country, Morton remains optimistic on the track. He sings, “Nothing lasts forever / Seasons change as does the weather / Things are bound to get better / As the days go by.”
Paul is a solid album that is packed with positive affirmations to comfort anyone who is going through a tough time. If there’s anything to learn from this short-and-sweet project, it’s to never lose sight of who you are and to remain optimistic — period.
Rating: 8.8 out of 10
Standout Tracks: “Practicing,” “Built For Love” and “Kid Again”
Stream Paul below.